Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee publishes new guidance on taxi wheelchair importance

Image credit: LEVC

The Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC) published its position on the accessibility of taxis and private hire vehicles (PHVs), highlighting the importance of taxis for disabled people both in urban and rural communities.

The DPTAC works with the Department for Transport (DfT), providing advice to the Government on the transport needs of disabled people. According to DPTAC all activities are aligned with its vision statement, that “disabled people should have the same access to transport as everybody else, to be able to go where everyone else goes and to do so easily, confidently and without extra cost”.

In the new guidance released this month it reads: “Taxis and private hire vehicles (PHVs) are one of the most popular modes of transport for disabled people after the private motor car. Disabled people use taxis more than non-disabled people despite more of them living in relative poverty. Taxis and PHVs provide a door-to-door service, with scope for individual assistance with the particular needs of a disabled passenger.

“They are also one of the services most complained about by disabled people, with regular reports of drivers refusing to carry passengers or provide the assistance needed.

“The Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC) believes that taxi and PHV services should be fully accessible to disabled travellers, and this statement sets out our proposed framework for achieving such a service.”

The expert committee also suggested that using taxis and PHV services should be more than a door to door service. Extra consideration should be put on providing drivers the correct training and disciplining drivers whom provide an inadequate service.

The report said: “DPTAC believes that in the modern era a taxi or PHV service is not simply a matter of driving the passenger from A to B. The driver needs to take active steps to ensure that the passenger is safe and comfortable, and provide reasonable assistance to enable the passenger to use their service.”

The committee shared concerns regarding the falling number of Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles (WAV) available to passengers. 58% of taxis are licensed as WAVs, whilst only 2% of PHV are able to carry wheelchairs. Due to the rise of ride-hailing platforms like Uber, the DPTAC highlighted that the number of WAVs are falling in the capital.

The report states: “There should be a mixed fleet of WAVs and conventional cars for both taxis and PHVs in all licensing areas. Although the boundary between taxis and PHVs has become blurred in recent years, for as long as the two forms of licenses exist, DPTAC wants both fleets to meet the needs of disabled people. It’s certainly the case that some disabled people will want to pre-book their vehicle by phone or on an app, while others will require a rank or hailed service.

“At present, 58% of taxis are WAVs but only 2% of PHVs. However, they are far from evenly distributed. All 20,000 taxis in London are WAVs, and the remainder are concentrated in the major urban areas (82% of WAVs are in metropolitan areas). In many urban areas of the country, fewer than 5% of the licensed fleet are WAV.

“Concerningly, the situation seems to be deteriorating. The launch of Uber and other app-based systems for booking PHVs has resulted in an increase of over 4% in the number of licensed vehicles. But they are nearly all PHVs and, in London, there has been a reduction in the number of licensed taxis which has resulted in an overall fall in the number of WAVs on the road.

Image credit: Nissan Dynamo Taxi

“WAVs are significantly more expensive to purchase than conventional saloon cars, which is why they are generally only widely available where licensing authorities have decided that only WAVs can be licensed as taxis.”

Access for disabled taxi passengers has become a huge talking point within the taxi industry following new measures implemented by local authorities.

In London, a new ‘Streetspace’ scheme designed by the Mayor of London and Transport for London (TfL) has caused controversy amongst disabled groups as road access looks likely to restrict wheelchair accessible vehicles.

Whilst the London transport regulator assured that access for emergency services and disabled people will be maintained, disability groups and disabled travellers have raised serious concerns.

Transport for All (TfA), an organisation for disabled and older people dedicated to championing the rights to travel with freedom and independence in London, has described the plans as “incredibly disappointing”.

The disability group published a statement which conveyed their disappointment at not being consulted before the changes were designed, and that no provision was given to wheelchair accessible taxis and Blue Badge holders despite assurances from TfL.

In July concerns about taxi access for disabled users were first raised. Will Norman, Mayor of London’s Walking and Cycling Commissioner, reassured disabled users that “the plans will allow taxi access for all”.

London’s licensed taxi drivers and fleet owners have invested nearly £200million into 3,500 zero-emission vehicles to clean up the capital’s poor air quality since 2018, as requested by the Mayor of London. It is feared that the ban will force disabled users and the general public to pay far higher metered fares and face increased journey times.

Two taxi groups, the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association (LTDA) and United Trade Action Group (UTAG) have joined together to submit legal papers to the High Court, to challenge not only the new Bishopsgate Bus Gate scheme that excludes licensed black cabs during peak times, but also a review of the entire London Streetspace plans.

UTAG representatives, Trevor Merralls and Angela Clarkson, released a statement on Friday saying: “We can now tell you that in addition to the Bishopsgate challenge, UTAG and LTDA have today lodged a request in the High Court for permission to Judicially Review (JR) the entire London Streetspace Plan.”

In Cheltenham, the borough council confirmed that plans to move all licensed taxi drivers into WAV by 2021 will continue despite fewer than a quarter of all taxis currently meeting the new set of regulations.

Speaking to TaxiPoint, the council also believed that the demand for taxis in the future is likely to be “significantly reduced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic”, but are keen for the few that financially survive the pandemic to “comply with the highest standards”.

Of the 224 Hackney taxis licensed in the borough, only 54 are currently WAV compliant.

Cabbies in Cheltenham have been pleading for a two year extension to recover from the financial impact of the virus before moving over to the new mandatory WAV measures.

In the new guidance produced by DPTAC it was recommended that some level of funding should be provided to cover the additional cost of purchasing a WAV, preferably through the licensing budget.

The guidance states: “Because taxis are generally owned by an individual driver, DPTAC believes that some form of subsidy will be required to cover the additional cost of purchasing a WAV. The government should research the amount of the cost difference, and refresh this regularly to avoid market distortion.

“Depending on the outcome of this research, DPTAC’s preferred model is for the subsidy to WAV drivers to be funded within the licensing budget, either by abolishing the license fee for WAV owners or by subsidising the purchase of the vehicle (or a combination of the two). In this way, taxi owners effectively share the additional cost of purchasing a WAV. If the effect of this is to significantly increase licensing costs, we recognise that some increase in fares will be necessary.”

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